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Eat Healthy at Restaurants With These 6 Clever Tips

Treat yourself while keeping your health and fitness goals in mind.

Eat healthy at restaurants
Headshot Crop By Cara O'Bleness December 20, 2021

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The holidays are in full swing, which means a lot of gatherings you have on your calendar likely revolve around festive meals. Whether you’re making dinner reservations to catch up with friends or planning a night out for your family, there are a few clever ways to eat healthy at restaurants. This certainly does not mean depriving yourself of the tastier things in life, it just means it’s possible to make healthier choices while living your life to the fullest.

Follow these tips when dining out treat yourself while also staying on track with your goals:

1. Read the Menu Ahead of Time

You may know the menu of your favorite Mexican joint like the back of your hand, but if you’re dining somewhere new for the first time, take a look at the menu before you go. If you give yourself some time to peruse beforehand, you’re less likely to be rushed when it comes time to order, and you’ll be more apt to choose something a bit healthier.

Instead of telling yourself what you should avoid while eating out, put a positive spin on it and consider what types of dishes you should look for instead.

Look for meals that are described as being prepared by being roasted, broiled, baked, steamed, seared, or sauteed. Oftentimes these dishes are lower in both calories and fat than some other restaurant options.

2. Opt for an Appetizer or Dessert

Go ahead and share the charcuterie board! But, if you’re ordering an appetizer, maybe skip the dessert this time and enjoy that gluten-free chocolate cake that caught your eye the next time (or vice versa).

A few healthy appetizer options to start your meal with include shrimp cocktail, lettuce wraps, stuffed mushrooms, guacamole, and hummus with veggies. As for dessert, consider splitting whatever you order, or try a dessert flight that is made to share!

3. Make Healthy Substitutions

When preparing a meal at home, you have the option to substitute ingredients while you’re cooking. For example, swapping out disruptive foods like processed oils with a healthier option, such as olive oil. When you’re eating out at a restaurant, however, this isn’t an option.

Order whatever fits your fancy, but consider making healthy swaps to make your meal more well-rounded and less calorie-dense.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Order the burger you’re salivating over, but consider swapping out the beef patty for a turkey burger, or get a lettuce wrap instead of a bun

  • Add extra protein to your salad by topping it with chicken, steak, or shrimp

  • Ask for any sauces or dressings to be served on the side. Restaurants can be heavy-handed with these, and you can control how much you add to your meal this way

4. Be Mindful of Portion Size

Restaurant portions are notoriously overwhelming, and the meal you’re presented with is often larger than just one portion. Consider eating only half of your meal while you’re out, and taking the other half home with you for the next day’s lunch or dinner. As a bonus, you’ll save yourself some meal prep time tomorrow!

5. Hydrate Throughout the Day

It’s possible to mistake dehydration for hunger, so make sure to drink water throughout the day (this advice is applicable all day, every day, whether you’re dining out or not!). As a rule of thumb, men should drink 124 oz of water per day, while women should drink 92 oz per day.

Also, don’t drink your calories! Soda, juice, and flavored beverages are loaded with sugar and excess calories. So, stick to water at dinner — but we certainly won’t fault you for indulging in a glass of red wine or a hard seltzer.

6. Enjoy Yourself

At the end of the day, you deserve to treat yourself! As with any meal, you should enjoy the food you’re consuming. Eat your meal mindfully, which means bringing awareness to the experience of tasting and chewing your food. Involve all five senses as you eat. Savor your meal, stop when you’re full, and get back on track with your macro count tomorrow.

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About the author

Cara O'Bleness

Senior Editor at Playbook

Cara is a passionate writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience in print and online media. She loves storytelling and believes that words have the power to change the world. In her free time, Cara is an avid reader, enjoys meditating, and loves spending time with her husband and their chihuahua pug mix, Callie, streaming the latest horror flick or true crime documentary. She is a graduate of Michigan State University's School of Journalism.

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